Tag Archives: poetry

you (me, us) – Eddy Funkhouser

I just learned about you

but you’ve become my shadow
your assault in the image of mine
influenced by my experience

I was unaware of your existence

but your ordeals were mine
before they were yours
not to be possessive— as much as I don’t want to share
the trauma, I’m here to share the healing

I do not know you

but I know your story
an echo of my own
I heard the blow-by-blow account
of what happened to you (to me, us)
and my stomach felt empty and
nauseous, both at once
I could predict the next act that you did not
consent to, before it was told to me
my body ached in the places
you (me, us) were hurt

I do not know your name

but forgive me
a reported rapist might become
a jailed rapist might become
held from offending again
had I intercepted your abuse
snatched it from the air before
it could settle onto your shoulders
I’m sorry despite
knowing that what happened to you (me, us)
isn’t, wasn’t my fault

I have never met you
but thank you

for turning in our mutual rapist
when I didn’t, couldn’t
for impeding yet another
repetition of our pain
for reminding me
that it was real, that it was wrong, that I (you, we) deserve justice
for seeking the reparation
we deserve to heal

I cannot find you, talk to you, cry with you
but I believe you (me, us)

Eddy Funkhouser
Eddy Funkhouser is a queer non-binary urban farmer and garden educator living in San Francisco, CA. Their work can be found in Dirty Girls Magazine, Beyond Bloodlines, Awakened Voices, Stonewall’s Legacy, and Written on the Body.

Sharp Objects 1
Oil on Canvas
Meghan Harris

Meghan Harris
Meghan Harris is a landscape and abstract painter in San Francisco. Her education includes Princeton University, Corcoran School of Art, Washington, DC, Art Students League of New York, and City College. Her work “Bridge” captures how one experiences objects from many perspectives. See harrispaintings.com.

Renaming This Life – Anita Kline

This is not a march she says.
This is a walk, each step a prayer.
Her words a kind reminder in the voice of the ancestors
who knew the earth as Mother, the sky as Father.

This re-emerging language of native friends
who spot a sinuous cloud crossing the face of Grandmother Moon
and call it Protective Serpent.

This re-imagined way with words—
pipe evoking peace, not bombs,
relative relaxing the moment of greeting,
kin or stranger, no matter from where or from whom.

All were welcomed to Standing Rock,
home for months to water protectors, sacred-site defenders,
indigenous people converging from every forgotten place.

Dakota, Lakota, Sioux, and more-than-enough-more names
to make this the largest gathering of native nations
for over a hundred years.

Irresistible, this call to come together, drum together,
sing, cook, circle together on land now also of burying together
old animosities.

Irrepressible, the visions. New ways of being together
on land long consecrated by ceremony,
then violently desecrated by greed, misnamed as need.

Water is sacred they teach us. Ancient wisdom,
calling into question all doing done in the name of destiny,
in the name of progress, in the name of resources,
in the name of mine, in the name of My God!

Anita Kline
Poetry came late to Anita’s life as she moved into retirement from her job as a social worker at SF General Hospital. “Renaming this Life” arose from transforming encounters with Older Writers at the Bernal Heights Library and with indigenous activists working to heal the planet in the face of ecological devastation.

Clearing Storm in Yosemite
Constance Louie-Handelman

Constance Louie-Handelman
Constance Louie-Handelman completed her A.A. degree at CCSF in 1973. Now retired as a clinical psychologist, she has returned to CCSF 2019 spring semester with a focus on digital photography.

For Kindness – Kati Spitz

To know having
You must first have lost
Walked past the grocery store carts full of food
While counting the pennies in your pocket
To buy eggs you hope will keep everyone full for the rest of the week
To appreciate a Thanksgiving table
Piled high with green bean casserole
First you must
Have gone to bed hungry
There’s no Joy in having
First having lost
You cannot know the fresh squeezed joy of birth
Until you have held someone’s hand
While they slipped away from this world and into the next
There’s no love without grief
No joy without sorrow
No ecstasy without pain
To know the breath of life truly
You must have felt the hot burn in your lungs
While you sink below the waves
Watching the sunlight shimmer and streak through the blue grey water
There is no with
Until there has been

Kati Spitz
Kati Spitz is a painter, writer, and pastry chef living in San Francisco.

Lost in the Cosmos
Acrylic on Canvas
Michelle Engeldinger

Michelle Engeldinger
This piece, titled “Lost in the Cosmos,” is inspired by space. There is something so dark and mysterious but also beautiful about the depths of the universe, which is what I hope to convey through this piece.

Unrequited Heart Athletics – Helen Dannenberg

O.K. Heart
It’s time to shape up
It’s over now, ended
Stop hurting
Stop aching
Let Ms. Brain earn her keep and
Direct the show
Let go dependence
Loosen need away
Figure out how to tame the
Fanged lion of loneliness
Keep that bopping beat
Ms. Brain gets organized
Skin Cells
Try Amnesia
Ms. Brain cast that net wide
Fill that need for one to one

Helen Dannenberg
Helen Dannenberg used spoken word in her choreography. She has done poetry with Sally Saunders and currently Older Writers Lab (OWL).

rose ancienne
pen and ink
veronique fleming

veronique fleming
veronique fleming is a local sketchbook artist currently living on the island of alameda. “I draw to tune into a deeper sense of calm. It is a way to practice being internal, allowing my attention to focus completely in the present moment through whatever is being created on the page.”

Rousted at Civic Center – Thomas A. E. Hesketh

Rousted at Civic Center
As leaves from fallen lives
Delivered from their thought trees
Gracing the morning moist sidewalks of despair
Between the monuments of culture:
Civic Center’s Main Library
And the Asian Art Museum, alike solemn
Bastions of the tax base

Encamped against the barrier wall
Itself holding stacks of books in and the populace out
Under the protection of Pioneer monuments
Celebrating the conquest of California
Dominated by the Goddess of Victory
And her tamed verdigris, bronze, golden bear
Each with their gaze fixed on the City Hall Dome
In the style of conquerors as only statuary can stare
With a grey pigeon perched on the Goddess’ head
White deposits crusted beneath, accreted, accenting her crown

This the moment, humanely half-seven
When the homeless are roused
Rousted from overnight nests of cardboard and disaster blankets
Raked up by officers wearing baby blue plastic gloves
As a barrier against the contagion of unmanageable lives
Lest our finest be fouled gathering what is left behind on sidewalk,
Stain makers’ leavings, untidy evidence of eking out an existence

As some mothers’ children – many parents themselves – now haggard
Windblown, sundried, eyes glazed to the squint of lost focus
Tumble without conviction to begin a new last day, another rung on a ladder,
Directionless, herded, heedless away, with tattooed emotions licking their pours for salt
As the unnamed, unwashed, unfed, unattended
Slowly disburse along unmarked paths to elsewhere
As they emerge in pairs or alone, with unleashed dogs, guided by scent more than sense
Or tethered themselves to the providence of a wheelchair, or rubber tipped walker
Zombie-shuffle to today, with the past trailing like a wheel across the plains
Ruts cut too deep to close the flesh of the earth, too deep to leave an open mind

As they flow slowly into the community, preachers find corners
To preach the unspoken word to absent audiences
Philosophers serve notice by soliloquy unnoticed by the absent crowds
Indifferent seagulls peck at stirred refuse in competition with the spilt crack harvesters
Workers hose down the sidewalk encampment to still the odor of homelessness
Urine San Francisco someone laughs without glee or commitment
You’re a species of feces another flings a retort
And toothless mouths laugh, glancing sideways
Even numbness has feelings so the paranoid used to say.

Thomas A. E. Hesketh
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on a cusp, in the last half of the last century of the last Millenium. I once saw a meteor explode in the heart of Orion. Otherwise, what has happened to me has happened to other persons, too; so it seems.

Loving Couple
Tigran Demurjian
Concrete Crucifixion
Tigran Demurjian

Tigran Demurjian
I’m an aspiring photographer born and raised in San Francisco. I find myself compelled to document the expansive change our City is going through. In the blink of an eye things disappear, and most are worth remembering. My work can be found here https://www.instagram.com/de_murjian/.

swamp monster – Eddy Funkhouser

when it happens in 2009 you wonder
you wonder if it was
quite right
quite appropriate
quite consensual

being drunk
being reckless
not physically resisting
you must have consented

you tamp it all way down
bury the monster
with mounds of sex
(definitely consensual sex) (definitely bad sex)

the legality changes in 2013
the federal definition of rape updates
for the first time in eighty years

the new definition is
“penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

the United States recognizes that
rape doesn’t have to be “violent”
they don’t know all rape is violent
the Department of Justice removes
the word “forcible”
the phrase “against her will”

in the announcement the Department of Justice writes
“a victim can be incapacitated and thus unable to consent because of ingestion of drugs or alcohol… Physical resistance is not required on the part of the victim to demonstrate lack of consent.”

you read about the updated definition in your feminism class
underneath the mounds of sex
(definitely consensual sex) (definitely bad sex)
something awakens
a swamp monster arises from the depths
shedding layers of algae and condoms and duckweed
she stands up and dwarfs the wetland
dwarfs the last four years
dwarfs your conviction that you are okay  
she starts screaming
she doesn’t stop

you finally consider for a moment
that you were assaulted
that you were raped
that a monster was birthed in you
she won’t stop screaming

you try to keep the course
bury her in sex  
(definitely consensual sex) (definitely bad sex)
rebuild the layers
to blanket the swamp monster
suffocate her in sweaty sheets
at least muffle the screaming

the screaming intensifies

you tell someone
you say rape
your friends already know
they were waiting for you

now you want to scream so you do
and you and the swamp monster scream together
neither of you stops

sometimes one or both of you takes a breath to tell your therapist about 2009
sometimes one or both of you quiets a little
sometimes one or both of you stops screaming
sometimes one or both of you whimpers a little

the swamp monster is still here but not as loud
not buried in sex
(definitely consensual sex) (definitely bad sex)

you’re not friends but not enemies either
sometimes one or both of you nods to the other on the street as you pass
acquaintances bound together by shared screaming

Eddy Funkhouser
Eddy Funkhouser is a queer non-binary urban farmer and garden educator living in San Francisco, CA. Their work can be found in Dirty Girls Magazine, Beyond Bloodlines, Awakened Voices, Stonewall’s Legacy, and Written on the Body.

Defeat of the sun by the Night King
Mixed Media Paper and Digital
Yousef Kazerooni

Yousef Kazerooni
Yousef is a queer artist who grew up in Iran. After immigrating in his early twenties, CCSF became his home. He found an international community of students, and traveled to different parts of the world. Yousef is a storyteller and his work is inspired by mixing different cultures and traditions.

Rapid Fire, 1993 – Isabel Magdaleno

It was Chrissy that first introduced Alma to Judas Priest one afternoon in the living room of Chrissy’s mother’s apartment. That afternoon, at least, they weren’t friends. Not yet. They weren’t exactly friends, as maybe Alma wouldn’t be quite comfortable calling Chrissy her friend. Not that day. Chrissy had a reputation at school for being tough and being trouble. She’d transferred in half-way through the school year, which made her the subject of all manner of rumors and implications she either didn’t notice or didn’t care to deny. Alma, however, who was not wealthy and not white, couldn’t afford to be a pariah. Though she never repeated what she heard, she didn’t defend Chrissy either.

Allegedly, Chrissy got kicked out of her old school for kissing a teacher. Allegedly, students had seen her drinking at a high school football game with some older boys. Allegedly, Chrissy had a fake ID from Rhode Island that said she was 18 and she used it to buy cigarettes. At least that last one was believable. At thirteen years old, Chrissy was already a tall young woman in ripped jeans and an oversized t-shirt, a men’s flannel tied around her waist. In practice, Chrissy didn’t talk to anyone in her classes unless it was necessary and spent most of her lunches sitting alone on the patch of grass at the edge of the quad or with another boy in their grade who missed a lot of school and always seemed to be in need of a haircut.

In Social Studies earlier that day, Chrissy had leaned over to Alma while they filled out worksheets. “Hey Alma, you should come hang out after school today.” Alma looked around to see if anyone had noticed. Nobody did. In truth, Alma didn’t have many friends either, and nobody ever asked her to hang out after school. She tried to sound nonchalant.
“Yeah, that sounds ok.”

“Cool. We can hang out at my house. My mom won’t be home until five but she can drive you back to your house after. She’s really nice.”

All day Alma wondered how she’d get away with this. Her parents barely let her go to the movies with friends from church, let alone into the home of a white girl who wore lipstick, especially while her mother wasn’t home. During lunch she hoped Chrissy wouldn’t approach her in front of the small group of girls she’d gradually assembled over the past two years. With relief Alma saw Chrissy’s flannel back on its usual patch of grass with her usual lunch companion, Kevin. He held open a comic book and seemed to be laughing.

Instead of boarding the school bus in the afternoon, Alma met Chrissy at the back fence between the soccer field and the custodian’s warehouse. The two walked half a mile through the neighborhood of large stucco houses and across a boulevard four lanes wide in each direction. As they crossed, a driver whistled at them out his car window. Chrissy turned toward the man and yelled out “PERVERT! What’s wrong with you?” and continued to the other side while the man honked his horn. Under her breath she said, “Pervert asshole.”

This had happened to Alma a few times before and always left her disoriented, with a damp heat crawling through her scalp and a cold sickness in her stomach. The times this had happened to her, she’d never dared to confront the drivers. If she was alone she’d run away and hunch her shoulders in an effort to diminish the size of her developing body. Alma saw her own shadow walking next to Chrissy’s and noticed how childlike it looked. Across the boulevard Chrissy stopped in front of a large apartment complex and punched a code to access the front gate. Past a swimming pool and around some landscaped pathways, Chrissy led Alma to her front door. The inside of the apartment was dim and smelled of cat fur and un-vacuumed carpet. Alma followed Chrissy inside cautiously and kicked off her shoes in the entry as Chrissy did. From the dark hallway came the tinny sound of machine gun fire and classic rock music.

“Lame,” Chrissy declared. “My asshole brother is home. He like, never leaves the house.” She shook her head. “What an asshole.”

Chrissy threw her backpack on the sofa and invited Alma to do the same, which she did, though with less enthusiasm. They entered the galley kitchen, the long counter bare except for a finger-print smeared microwave oven and a dusty coffee maker. Chrissy pulled a pizza from the freezer while Alma called home. Her mother answered.

“Ma,” Alma said in Spanish, “I didn’t take the bus home.”

After a deep sucking breath, her mother said,”Oh Alma, why are you so distracted all the time? You missed your bus, and you know your father is working a double shift today. He won’t be home until late and won’t be able to pick you up. You’ll have to walk home and it’s so dangerous out there.”

“No, Ma.” Alma sighed, “I have group project to do, so I’m studying at the library with a friend. Her mom will drive me home around five. Don’t worry. See you later.”

Alma hung up the phone before her mother could ask which library and which friend. Chrissy handed her a can of diet cola and the two sat on the white living room carpet, their socked feet propped up on the low coffee table.

Chrissy slurped her soda. “Wow, you speak Spanish, Alma? That’s so cool. I had no idea.”

“Oh.” Alma tried not to feel embarrassed. “Well, yeah. My dad speaks pretty good English but my mom still… I mean, she can speak English, we just mostly speak Spanish at home. It’s easier for her.”

“Crazy.” Chrissy turned on the television to the music video station. Alma tried not to stare at the screen, to act as if she’d watched the channel before. A young woman pouted against a chain-link fence, tossing her blond hair around in time to pop music.

“So, what kind of music do you like?” Chrissy asked. “What’s your favorite band?” She pulled a binder out of her backpack.

“I dunno. All kinds, I guess.” Alma shrugged. Chrissy was still waiting for a convincing answer. “The Beatles?” then again, more assured. “I like The Beatles.”

Chrissy laughed. “Well, this is my favorite band.” She turned off the television and put a compact disc into the stereo, fiddled with the knobs for a moment and stood back, waiting for the music to begin. Out of the speakers came the most raucous sound Alma had ever heard. It seemed impossible for anyone to play music so quickly and with so many instruments going at once. A man’s voice sang ugly words Alma could make out as being about destruction. Alma had expected Chrissy’s music to be unfamiliar and possibly loud, but this noise was what her parents and their church magazines must have been referring to when they described modern music as Satanic.

Chrissy searched Alma’s face for a reaction.

“What do you think?”

“Um, it’s really fast.”

“Fast? I guess. It’s Judas Priest. It’s like, just regular metal. There’s way faster metal.”

“Oh, no. I mean, I guess I never heard heavy metal before.”

“What? That’s crazy. This album is super old even.”

After a moment, after “Rapid Fire” had started, Alma breathed deeply. “Chrissy, my parents are super strict. They’re not super religious but they are really protective and they don’t let me listen to regular music. Only Oldies. And Spanish songs from like, the 70s.” It was a difficult thing to confess, and she was a little relieved Chrissy had no friends at school, except maybe Kevin.

The two girls sat together, not talking, and gradually the shock of the music wore off. By the time “Breaking the Law” came on, Alma nodded her head along to the melody. She said, “My parents think any music with too many guitars is devil-worshipping. If “Paint It Black” comes on the Oldies station they make me turn it off until it’s over. I don’t even know what they’d do if they caught me listening to this.”

“What?” Chrissy stood up. “That’s so fucked up. You should just tell them to fuck off. It’s just music.” She walked to the kitchen and returned with two slices of cheese pizza on paper plates.

Alma felt obligated to defend her parents. “It’s not that my parents are bad people. They worked hard to move me and my little sister out of the neighborhood where we used to live, just so we could go to good schools and be safe. They’re just really strict. And overprotective. About everything. TV, boys, music, clothes. Everything.” Chrissy shrugged.

They ate while flipping aimlessly through their respective schoolwork, and as the rest of British Steel played Alma could begin to make out the individual words. The guitars soared and the drums thumped in her heart and she realized she didn’t care about society’s opinion of young girls either. Chrissy bobbed her head along and looked pleased. When it ended, Alma asked, “How did you even get into this?”

Chrissy said, “Oh, you know. I was at the record store on 17th street and I felt a calling to it. The cover was all black with a big razor blade on it. So, I stole it. And it’s been my favorite ever since. Judas Priest is totally sick. My mom said they went to the Supreme Court or something because all these kids were listening it and then killing themselves.”

Alma wasn’t sure if that was true, but opted not to doubt Chrissy.

A door opened and Chrissy’s brother emerged from the darkness. He was tall and too thin for his frame, his bony arms hanging out his black t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He pulled his hair back with a rubber band and sniffed the air. “Did you make a pizza? Maybe you’re not so fucking useless after all.” Without looking at either of the girls, he walked into the kitchen and came back, holding half the pizza on a baking tray and can of beer.

“Fuck you, Jeremy,” Chrissy called after him, but her voice sounded small. He turned toward the living room and looked first at Chrissy, then at the stereo.

“Chrissy, you poser. This is my Judas Priest cd, huh? I’ve been looking for it all week. If you scratch it, Chrissy, I swear to God, I will fuck you up.” He walked back into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Chrissy’s eyes turned watery and she sniffed. Feeling helpless, Alma offered her friendship. “Man, Chrissy, this is so good I could listen to it all the time. Do you think you could tape it for me?” Chrissy blinked twice and the tears were gone. She sprung from her seat and rummaged for a blank cassette as if she’d been waiting all day for this moment, popped it in the cassette player and re-started the cd. They listened again, doing homework separately, side by side.

Just after five Chrissy’s mother called to say she wouldn’t be home until late. “Shit,” Chrissy said. “I guess I can’t give you a ride home. I’m so sorry.” Her shoulders twitched in her oversized t-shirt. “Do you want to call your parents to come get you? I can walk you home, too, and ride my bike back.” The cd ended again and Chrissy pulled the tape out of the cassette player. “I don’t want you to get grounded or something. What do your parents do if you break the rules?”

Alma took the cassette from Chrissy’s hand before she could stick a label on it and snapped it into her Walkman, which she tucked into her sweatshirt pocket.

“Um, I don’t know. I’ve never broken the rules before.” On the few occasions Alma had gotten a ride home from the library, she’d found her mother sitting on the front porch, smoking cigarettes and rubbing the beads of her rosary. Alma pictured her mother smoking one cigarette for every ten minutes past five, and now at close to thirty minutes past and at least an hour until she could complete the three-mile journey, the pack would be almost gone by the time Alma came walking up the street to her door. What would her mother do? She waved Chrissy away. “Don’t worry about it. What are they going to do- only let me go to school and home and church? That’s my regular life anyway.”

She gathered her books into her backpack and put on her shoes. At the door, Chrissy said to her, “Hey, if you like Judas Priest, I can make you more tapes. I’ll make you another tape tonight and give it to you tomorrow at lunch or something.”

“Yeah, I’d like that.” Alma pulled her headphones over her ears and started the walk home.

Isabel Magdaleno
Isabel Magdaleno lives and writes in Oakland. She is a co-op member at Adobe Books in San Francisco, and occasionally works toward a creative writing certificate at CCSF. Rapid Fire, 1993 is her first published work.

Bay Area Band Psychic Hit 1
Rome Jones
Bay Area Band Psychic Hit 3
Rome Jones

Rome Jones
I first began photographing bands because of the passion musicians display while performing. It’s like siren’s call to the audience it drives us wild allowing us to shed the mundane insane aspects of ours lives. It’s my hope to capture this tribal passion.

Land’s End – Francesca Bavaro

There’s a place
called Land’s End
where I stand to look,
clear my head.

I stand there,
again and again.
Never once, experiencing
the same setting twice.

This time
Waves kiss the rocks
again and again.
No two pecks alike.
some drawn out,
others putter off

Off into the harbor,
Fog and the mist set sail
blown forward by
The ocean’s deep breathe,
and rest midway the Headlands.

I hear a crow, a caw
as native fowl sail and soar
before skimming their bellies
across the shore.

The sky falters,
into daylight no more.
The portrait I stand before,
Sets forevermore.

Because what is before
Is nevermore,
but tomorrow’s
almost ashore.

Francesca Bavaro
Francesca enjoys reading and writing poetry and short fiction. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, walking dogs, and frolicking in the grassy knolls of Golden Gate Park. She is terrified of birds.

Illusion, Reality
Tyler Graves

Tyler Graves
As an active artist, Tyler Graves is mainly a musician, but he also partakes in photography, printmaking, and drawing. Tyler finds inspiration through his wife, cats, and the cityscape/landscape of the Bay Area.

Letter to My Future Grandchild – Tehmina Khan

After Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Dear Grandchild,

You will not be born for many years.
But I want to tell you who you are.

You carry stories from five continents
in your blood.

You have travelled from
Afghanistan to India
India to New York
New York to Oklahoma
Oklahoma to California.

You have travelled from
the Philippines to San Francisco.

And from El Salvador to San Francisco.

You were brought
from West Africa, in shackles,
to the United States, ending up in Oklahoma.

The parts of you met here in California
where stories upon stories speak to each other

My precious grandchild,
If you are a girl
I will give you my saris
that unfold like silk rivers,
saris my grandmother folded into her suitcase
in Hyderabad
and flew to New Jersey
where she died
right before I married your grandfather in Oakland.

My beautiful grandchild,
It is 2018.
Your father is still a child
growing into a man.
He has not yet fallen in love.
Not yet had his heart broken.

I can only pray and trust
that you will someday be born.

I cannot promise you much.

It is 2018
and the town of Paradise has burned to the ground
and even in San Francisco,
we have breathed its particles.
Your dad has asthma.
He has struggled to breathe.

I wonder now where I will take you
to experience majesty and awe,

Yosemite, with its silver granite cliffs,
Will its trees burn away?
Will its winter snow become yearly rains?
Tassajara , where I go to meditate
and write poetry by the creek?
Last year, the fires came to its edges,
and smoke filled the valley.
And our own Crissy Field?
Will the tides rise and swallow it up?
Where then, will I take you to look for sand crabs?

If the snowpack runs dry
What will we drink?
Will the bees still be around to pollinate our fruit trees
and give us precious honey?

I cannot promise you much.

All I have is my voice and my poem.

I speak for the trees.
I speak for the air.

I ride a bicycle.
I can grow vegetables.

I can speak to the Divine.
She is the ultimate healer.

I speak for you.

My infinite love,

Your grandmother

Tehmina Khan
Tehmina Khan has taught science to preschoolers and citizenship to octogenarians, and she now teaches English and Poetry for the People at CCSF. Her work has been published in Forum, Written Here, OccuPoetry, and PoetsEleven. Tehmina lives with her husband and teenage son in San Francisco and keeps close to extended family around the bay.

Scanned Ink on paper
Natalia Gajos

Natalia Gajos
Natalia was born and raised in Poland. She is a Graphic Design student at CCSF. She loves to meet and learn from people from all corners of the world. Natalia is passionate about craftsmanship in design. The Drop Cap letter is a metaphor of her past and present life.

Theyyams – Athena Kashyap

A ritual form of worship in Kerala where gods and goddesses enter the earthly realm by possessing the body of a dancer.
Temple courtyard, Kerala

Aniyara: the changing room

Still as chameleons changing
colors, they await
their transformation from just
one more painter in the city
nine months of the year,
to goddesses in their village shrine.
Their faces, milky-red, inscribed
with yantric cosmologies,
make them one
with the stars, enormous
eyes plummeting them
to depths where consciousness
sleeps and wakes.
A mountain, vast as Meru,
sit atop of their heads,
the ocean, where gods
churned Amrit, swirl
around their waists.

Tonight, on the border,
where farm greets forest,
the land glistens,
an ocean burning light.
Tonight, a thousand injustices
festering, bring brahmins
and dalits alike,
to this dalit shrine.
Farmers with broken faces,
empty wells with water stolen
reappearing in locked city taps,
money lenders, sweet vendors,
home-makers and mothers,
bored children in tow,
the odd tourist with camera
come with his city guide
translating, reinterpreting
village customs in a Western light—
all come to behold
the goddesses—
Makkam and Puliyor Kali
inhabit the earthly bodies
of theyyam dancers,
come for blessings,
await judgements
for good deeds and bad,
for the goddesses to
illuminate them
with their shimmering
beauty, dark fury.

Ready at last, the dancer
dressed as Makkam
looks in the mirror—
window opening to the sky.
At that very instant, the goddess
stops by in the sky, sees
her face in the mirror:
fanged mouth to devour
constellations, enormous eyes
that see beyond seeing.
A flash—faces blur, dissolve.
In the blink of a sky’s eye,
the world turns over
as Makkam slips through
the doorway of the dancer’s eyes,
electrifies his inert body
into cosmic motion.


good and evil flaring from
her slanted stare,
Makkam hisses and spits
one mountain step at a time—
to the thunder of the chendu
lightening of veeni.
Singers tell her story:
when the mighty Makkam
was a mere mortal woman
falsely accused of adultery
beheaded, along with her children
heads bobbing
in a dark, deep well
streaked with red—
like the red ribbons that once tied
her oil-glistening plaits.

Tonight, she dances—
a flickering flame lapping
the edges of the world.
She unfurls her fury—
skirt of fire
universe expanding
in her burning third eye
as she admonishes:

You—murderers of female fetuses
You—rapists in light and dark
In homes, on the streets, on rumbling buses
You—demanders of dowry with advanced degrees,
bespoke suits
You—voyeurs looking on in silence.
Take heed! I am all
women, and all women are
Makkam. I see you all
with daggers in my eyes.
Open your eyes—
See the darkness inside you.
I am coming for you!

Goddess Puliyoor Kali, the tiger goddess

Waiting in the wings,
a second dancer looks
into his mirror just as Makkam
takes her leave. Within seconds,
the goddess Puliyoor Kali
steps inside his eyes.
Her fire spreads across
his body as she leaps
into the courtyard.

Gamboling with the goddess’
giant steps, burning stripes,
a thousand smiles of gold
and lightning, suns track
dervish circles
around her head.
She purrs, snarls, growls
and with a deep, throaty roar
demands to know:

Where have all
the brave hearts gone?
When I along with
my four tiger brothers,
broke into a cattle shed,
Karanidhiri Kannan,
heroic human soul,
fought them and died
protecting his friend’s cows.
Today, our mother cries
mountain peaks of tears
for lost forests and groves—
for Akli, its pale yellow flowers
for Aini, hardy sustainers of boats.
Arayal, sacred heart-leaves fluttering
Peral, sprawling tree city
with branches for walls—
but no one listens.
Elephant, leopard, crocodile, tiger—
reduced to bags and shoes.
Only the oceans that dance
around my waist are full—
brimming plastic,oil and tears.

Swirling cartwheels of fire,
Puliyor Kali’s roar reverberates
through the forest.
Inside the cochlea of a shell,
sea meets shore. Yet,
non-believers still ignore
her dying roar.


Spent, the dancers crawl out
of their mountain dresses.
They remember nothing
of the dances, the goddesses
that spoke just a few minutes ago
through their mouths and bodies.
The crowds are already
starting to disperse.
Children nag to go
back to their televisions,
the tourist comes by
for a few final shots.
He thrusts a few rupees
into their hands. They take it,
ask for more.

Soon, the dancers must return
back to the city to repay
accumulated village debts,
back to scraping filth
from crumbling walls,
their own skin that can never
come clean. Already,
they long to return
to their village, return
their bodies back to the gods,
for them to make manifest
the world’s untold grievances
inscribed over centuries
with their bodies–
the goddesses pen—Ishika
rhythms, dynamic motion
burning, swirling
the cosmic script.

Athena Kashyap
Athena Kashyap is the author of Crossing Black Waters (SFA Press, 2012) and Sita’s Choice (SFA Press, 2019), both collections of linked poems exploring borders and women’s issues in India respectively. She was born in India, but currently makes her home in San Francisco, where she teaches English at City College of San Francisco.

Theyyam Artist
Aji Jayachandran